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COMMENTARY: Tebow’s not magic—but he is authentic Andrew C. Thompson, Jan 26, 2012
By Andrew C. Thompson UMR Columnist
He is the most polarizing figure in the National Football League.
Alternately vilified and lionized.
You’ll hear it on sports talk radio and from ESPN television commentators. You’ll read it in the pages of news articles and op/ed columns.
Some believe his leadership (if not always his play) is divinely inspired. Others ridicule him for his outward and unapologetic displays of faith. He seems unaffected by it all, just doing what he’s been doing since he first came to national attention as a college player at Florida. He is Tim Tebow. And he is the quarterback of the Denver Broncos.
The 2011-2012 football season has been one in which Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints set the all-time record for passing yards. It has been a season that saw the Green Bay Packers come within a hair’s breadth of finishing the regular season with a perfect 16-0 record.
Yet the media focus has been on Tebow and the Broncos, who barely squeaked into the playoffs at 8-8.
The reason for that attention has to do with Tebow’s Christian faith. Or if not for his faith as such, then for the way he displays it. Cameras often turn on Tebow to find him kneeling, with head down in prayer. (A pose that has become known as “Tebowing.”) Interviewers are always met by Tebow thanking his “Lord and Savior” before he responds to their questions.
It is these simple acts that inspire adulation in some, and vitriol in others. They’d go unnoticed if done by most other people. Tebow, of course, is beamed into millions of television sets around the country. That makes him hard to ignore.
But the Tebow debates go beyond simple words and gestures.
There’s the fact that Tebow was handed the reins to the Broncos’ offense when the team was floundering in the early season. His play thereafter was uneven and his passing statistics were, well, something less than at an all-pro level. His accuracy, his throwing motion and even his physique—none of it seemed right for the QB position in the NFL.
Even so, Tebow remarkably guided the Broncos to a number of fourth quarter comebacks after he became the starter. His teammates gravitated toward him as a leader. And he managed to get the Broncos into the playoffs after practically everyone had left them for dead.
In Round 1, Tebow even won an overtime victory against the fearsome Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers in stunning fashion. It was enough for some to see the hand of God at work.
Alas, the Broncos would get no further. All the “Tebow magic” (as some call it) came to a crashing halt in the Broncos’ second round playoff game. Denver was overwhelmed by powerful New England, its weaknesses exposed by the clearly superior Patriots. There would be no improbable run to the Super Bowl.
And so we can only expect that the Tebow debate will continue next season.
Whether Tebow will succeed as a quarterback in the NFL is an open question. There is some reason to think that he will not. His skill set is not what you’d call tailored to the conventional NFL game.
On the other hand, there can be no reason to question his sincerity as a Christian and as an example to others.
Tebow’s typical pre-game preparation is taken up with visiting desperately ill youth and young adults, whom he flies to Denver and entertains at his own expense.
His off-season is spent doing mission work in the Philippines, where he has preached the gospel and is currently building a hospital for the poor.
And the public displays of faith?
Here’s the thing: Tebow would be doing those things whether there were cameras pointed at him or not. He’s not ostentatious. But he is authentic.
For that, we can see in him an example for the rest of us. And you can bet I’ll be rooting for the Broncos next fall.
The Rev. Thompson is an instructor in historical theology & Wesleyan studies at Memphis Theological Seminary. Reach him at www.andrewthompson.com.